"Pigoon, balloon, pigoon, balloon"
I'm currently reading Oryx and Crake, the first volume of Margaret Atwood's dystopian trilogy, and though I wasn't sure I'd like it -- as with her Handmaiden's Tale, which I appreciated but did not truly enjoy -- I actually am caught up in the story, which is rather frightening in a number of ways, particularly in its depiction of transgenic pigs called pigoons:
The goal of the pigoon project was to grow an assortment of foolproof human-tissue organs in a transgenic knockout pig host -- organs that would transplant smoothly and avoid rejection, but would also be able to fend off attacks by opportunistic microbes and viruses, of which there were more strains every year. A rapid-maturity gene was spliced in so the pigoon kidneys and livers and hearts would be ready sooner, and now they were perfecting a pigoon that could grow five or six kidneys at a time. Such a host animal could be reaped of its extra kidneys; then, rather than being destroyed, it could keep on living and grow more organs, much as a lobster could grow another claw to replace a missing one. (page 25)That sort of transgenic research is going on in our real world, so the dystopian future is readily conceivable. Yet, the pigoons seem more intelligent than ordinary pigs, in the eyes of five-year-old Jimmy (who is fated to survive and experience the post-apocalyptic world):
But the adults were slightly frightening, with their runny noses and tiny, white-lashed pink eyes. They glanced up at him as if they saw him, really saw him, and might have plans for him later. (page 29)The artist Jason Courtney has imagined the appearance of the pigoons, though his above image of the creature would seem to be a composite one that draws upon various passages in the novel, for the pigoons little Jimmy saw were still far more pig-like. The artist may have been thinking of a later passage:
"It's the neuro-regeneration project. We now have genuine human neocortex tissue growing in a pigoon. Finally, after all those duds! Think of the possibilities, for stroke victims, and . . ." (page 63)This is from Jimmy's teenage years, though perhaps some of the earlier experiments were not total neuro-regenerative failures, given the apparent intelligence noticed by Jimmy. As a much older man living in the post-apocalyptic wilds (an earlier passage, but a later point in the story), Jimmy learns that he has to face untamed pigoons, apparently grown even more intelligent, if we can assume that human neocortex tissue is now growing in their brains:
[O]ne morning he'd woken to find three pigoons gazing in at him through the plastic. One was a male; he thought he could see the gleaming point of a white tusk. Pigoons were supposed to be tusk-free, but maybe they were reverting to type now they'd gone feral, a fast-forward process considering their rapid-maturity genes. He'd shouted at them and waved his arms and they'd run off, but who could tell what they might do the next time they came around? (page 33)And there must be even worse transgenic creatures roaming these future badlands . . .